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James Meehan - Thinking Biblically About the Bible

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    James Meehan - Thinking Biblically About the Bible

Well, thank you for joining us for this week of Switch. We are in week 3 of our series, "The Bible: Fake News or Good News," where we have been grappling with the big questions about the Bible. What is it, why does it matter, what makes it special, is even worth believing? And today, what we're gonna do is we're going to answer your questions that you submitted back in week 1, when we kicked off this series just a few weeks ago. But before we get to your questions and the answers to those, we wanna take some time to review some of the big ideas we've covered this far, and also, introduce some new principles to help us make sure that when we're actually reading the Bible, we are doing it wisely. So for the last few weeks, we've been talking about what the Bible is, and we started by clarifying what it is not.

The Bible is not a textbook, with the answers to all of our questions. It's not a book of rules with all the rules to life. It's not an encyclopedia full of inspiring quotes that are meant to help us feel glad when we're feeling bad. The Bible contains some of all of those things, but it is so much more than any one of those things. What we've been talking about is this idea that the Bible is a story that leads to Jesus, and it invites us to become like Jesus. The Bible is a story, but it's just not any story. It's not some made up fairytale. It is the true story of God's redemptive plan to rescue human beings from sin and restore creation. It is the story of God and the story of us. It is the story of Jesus, and everything he did through his life, death and resurrection.

And throughout this story, we, as God's people, are being invited back into a relationship with him through putting our faith in Jesus, and that process invites us to be transformed from the inside out so that we begin to look and live and love more like Jesus. That's what the Bible is all about. It is a story, written by people, and inspired by God, that tells us about who Jesus is, and invites us to be changed in the process. So that's kind of the big ideas that we've been covering so far. And then, today, we're going to answer your questions, but before we do, if we wanna answer those questions wisely, we've gotta know how to think biblically about the Bible and so what I wanna give you is one statement and four principles. And while this is going to be a lot for you to try to digest and embrace, my advice would be to take some notes, write this down, whether on a piece of paper, maybe on your message guide, or just open up the notes app in your phone so that you can refer back to these layers.

So one statement that's going to summarize these four principles and the four principles are going to expand on that statement to help us have the best framework for approaching the Bible well. The one statement is this, that Jesus is King, and context is everything. Jesus is King and context is everything. When it comes to reading the Bible, we have already acknowledged that it is a story that leads to Jesus and invites us to become like Jesus. Everything about the Bible is about the person of Jesus, God who became man and through his life, invited us back into a relationship with him, and everything in the Bible is meant to turn us into people who are more like Jesus. When we approach the Bible, we start and end with Jesus, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, the Bible is all about Jesus, and it wants to change us into people who are like Jesus.

So we remember that Jesus is King and context is everything. What is context? That's everything that comes before and after and around the things that we're reading that help give meaning to those things, because if you just take a single verse and rip it out of context, it can be really easy to make it mean something other than what it's supposed to mean. And so, as we are approaching the scriptures, we wanna remember that Jesus is King and context is everything. And now these four principles that I wanna introduce you to, sort of just flesh out that one statement, and break it down into a little bit smaller, bite-sized chunks, and so we're gonna go pretty quickly through these so we have plenty of time to get to your questions, but the first statement that we wanna talk about or this first principle is that the Bible is God's Word for us, but it wasn't originally written to us. It's God's Word for us, but it wasn't originally written to us.

One of the things that we have talked about already and we're coming back to is the idea that the Bible was written by people and to people. Right, it's inspired by God, every step of the way, but it was written by a group of people, who lived in different time, place and culture than we do. They spoke a different language than we do, and so, when it comes to engaging with the Bible, some of the best questions we can ask are, who was the author, who is the audience, and what did the author want the audience to know? Because when we put ourselves in the shoes of the original audience and begin to read the Bible through their perspective, it's going to bring to life all the meaning and the truth that God wants us to grapple onto, and embody in our lives, because the Bible is God's Word for us. It is relevant and it is applicable to our lives today because it was inspired by God's Spirit, but it wasn't originally written to us.

That's principle number one. Principle number two is this, that the Bible is meant to be read literately and not just literally. Literately and not just literally. Now what does that mean? Literately means according to the literary genre. The Bible is a collection of writings, written by dozens of authors over the course of hundreds of years that are all telling the same story that leads to Jesus. But those authors were writing in different literary genres. Right, the Bible consists of poetry, parable, history, letters, theology, literature. There's all sorts of different genres that make up this beautiful book that we call the Bible. And if we try to read poetry the same way we read history, we are going to get confused and tripped up very quickly.

And I think that, a lot of the times, the different difficulties and misunderstandings that come from the Bible is not taking the time to learn what literary genre we are actually read when we're engaging with the Bible. And so, what we wanna do is we want to read the Bible literately and not just literally, because there's absolutely parts of the Bible that are meant to be read literally. But there are other parts that are more metaphor and poem and figurative language, and if we forget that, then we're gonna be confused really quickly. So that's the second principle, that the Bible is meant to be read literately, and not just literally.

The third principle is this, that the Bible is meant to be read in passages and not just pieces, passages and not just pieces. A piece would be like a single verse that we take out of context and try to figure out what that one verse might mean to us in our lives today, without actually acknowledging where that verse, where that piece falls in the greater passage, the paragraph, the chapter, the book, or the entire biblical story, because what we know is that if I have an hour-long conversation with a friend, and you just take one sentence out of that conversation, you could probably make it seem like that conversation was about something totally different than what we were really talking about, because in order to really understand what somebody is saying and what they mean when they say one thing, you have to look at everything else that they're saying. And the Bible is a story that leads to Jesus, and invites us to become like Jesus. It is a unified story where all of these different pieces are working together to help us better understand the truth of who God is, and what it means for us to be followers of Jesus. So when we're reading the Bible, we wanna read it in passages and not just pieces.

And the final principle is this, that the Bible was written to transform us, and not just to inform us, to transform us and not just to inform us. Now this last part is really, really important, because it can be tempting to go to the Bible, hoping that we will just learn a bunch of new things. But the Bible is about so much more than that. Every step of the way, God is inviting us, as we engage with the scriptures, to be engaged in the process of becoming more like Jesus, and so, if the way that we're reading the Bible isn't making us more like Jesus, then we're probably getting something wrong along the way, because at the end of the day, even if you forget all four of these principles I've just walked you through, hopefully, you were taking notes, here's what I hope you remember. That when it comes to reading the Bible wisely, Jesus is King, and context is everything.

Now with that foundation, that statement and those principles under our belts, what we're gonna do is we're going to dive into your questions, and y'all literally submitted hundreds of questions, and we read through every single one and as much as I would like to answer every single one, that would take like an entire year's worth of messages to get through, and so we just wrote down 10 questions that I'm gonna try to answer as fast as I can. If I run outta time, I might have to skip one or two, but hopefully, we can get through these in a way that is helpful and uplifting to you. So if you are ready for question number one, we're diving it right now.

This is from Hannah, who asked the question, "If God knows everything about our life, and what's going to happen, then when people die unexpectedly in a tragic accident, does he plan that"? I think this is such a great question. Because there's a lot of confusion that can arise when it comes to understanding the sovereignty of God, understanding the way that God rules the world, and I think a helpful verse or two to look at is found in the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9-10, where Jesus says, "This is how you should pray, if you're one of my followers". He says, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven". Let's take a look at that piece, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven". What Jesus is saying is that when you pray to God, you should pray and ask that God's will, his way of doing things, will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. The implication is that there are currently places in this world where the way God wants things to be done is not being done. And so, when tragedy strikes, I don't think God plans that. I don't think that God wants that.

I think that when our hearts break, God's heart breaks with us, because the thing that's important to acknowledge is that the way that God rules the world is not by being in control of every little detail, but he is in charge. The way that I like to think about it is to get rid of the bad picture that some of us might have of God being this divine puppet master, pulling the strings behind the scenes, and instead, look at God the way that Jesus does, as our heavenly Father, who loves us and wants what's best for us, and at the same time, like a good father, he honors our choices. He gives us the freedom to choose, and sometimes, the choices we make are not good. Those choices create harm in our lives, and in the lives of others.

This is what the story of the Fall is all about, back in Genesis 3. When human beings rejected God's way of doing things, we rebelled against his plan, and sin, suffering and evil were introduced into the biblical story. But the good news of the gospel is that, through Jesus, there will come a day when all of the wrong things, all of the sin, death, and suffering in our world will be wiped away, and God's gonna make all things new. So when tragedy strikes, does God plan that? I don't think he does it all. I think that what God wants is for human beings, for all of creation to be in a united, life-giving relationship with him. What God wants is peace, he wants love, he wants justice, and he's invited us, as followers of his Son, Jesus, to be a part of bringing that to this Earth, to actually be a part of answering that prayer, of bringing the will of God here on Earth as it is in heaven. So hopefully, that's helpful for you, Hannah.

The next question actually comes from Ashton, where she says, "What is the best place to start reading the Bible"? The best place I would recommend to start reading the Bible is in the gospels. The gospels are four different accounts of the life, death, resurrection, ministry and message of Jesus. We talked about this in week one of our series, so if you haven't watched that, go back and check it out. One of our youth pastors, Gavin Espinoza, talked about that, but Mark 1:1 says this, that, "The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, The Son of God". Remember, Jesus is King and context is everything. So the best place you can start is with Jesus, and I think one of the easiest gospels to dive into is the book of Mark. So I would start there, if you're not sure where else to go, so hopefully, Ashton, that's helpful for you.

Next we've got a question from Cale. Cale wanted to know, "Why is the Bible so hard to read? It's sometimes confusing". And I think that's a fantastic and really honest question, because I know that there have been many times where I've been reading the Bible, and I have been struggling with trying to figure out why the biblical authors wrote the way that they did. And then I was introduced to this thought one time, by somebody who said, what if the Bible was intentionally made hard to read because we were never meant to be able to read it and understand it on our own?

I think this is a really important thing to recognize, is that the life of a follower of Jesus, is never meant to be lived in isolation. It is always meant to be lived in community, because there are sometimes where we can think, man, all I need is my Bible and me, and that's all that I need. But I think what God's inviting us into is to be in an intimate relationship with other believers and to be in communion with him daily, through the prompting and the nudging of his Spirit, as we are reading his Word. And so, when you come to parts of the Bible that are confusing, see that as an invitation for you to ask God your questions, and then to process those questions with other people than can help you figure out what those words are supposed to mean for you and your life today.

The next question comes from Colton, from Overland Park, Kansas. He asked the question, "How much could Jesus deadlift"? Now this is probably the best question out of all of them that we've received. And as I was thinking about this question, here's what I thought about. Jesus was a carpenter, or a stone mason, kinda depending on how that word gets translated, and if you've ever been around a construction worker, they're usually pretty strong, and then, Jesus, in his day, they didn't have a bunch of video games, so he wasn't sitting around, just playing video games. So he's probably pretty fit, pretty active, and then he had to carry that wooden cross all the way to Calvary, so my best guess would be that Jesus could deadlift 4 or 5 for reps. How many? I don't know, probably 5 to 8. But that's just what I'm saying, so Colton, you let me know what you think Jesus could deadlift.

And we're gonna move to the next question. This is from, oh golly, this was a bunch of you, were asking questions about how old is the Earth, and who created God, and so, because of the amount of questions that came for that, we actually decided to tackle those questions in one of our YouTube shows called "Switch: Uncut," where we deal with your questions in a longer-form, interview-style conversation. So if you wanna know about what we think about the age of the Earth, and who created God, go check out one of our recent episodes of "Switch: Uncut," where you can do a deep dive on that. You can find it at our YouTube channel, just search Switch Youth on YouTube, and that will take you there.

This next question, I thought, was so good. It actually came from somebody on our YouTube channel, Prethaba asked this question. "How are you sure that your religion is right when there are thousands to choose from, and you are a Christian simply because you were born a Christian"? Such a great question, and this is a question that a lot of people have wrestled with, where they've come to a point in their own faith journey where they realize that the only reason they believe what they believe is because that's what they've been told to believe, that's what they've been raised to believe. But what's important to acknowledge is that there are many of us that follow Jesus not because this is what we were told to believe, but because through searching for what was true, we became convinced that there was more evidence to support the validity of Christianity than any other religion, and if Christianity is true, if Jesus is the Son of God, then in John 14:6, when Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me," then we're gonna take that seriously. We're gonna believe that it is through Jesus that we experience forgiveness of sins and reconciliation, reunion with our heavenly Father.

And so, really, the most important question to ask is not, are all of these other religions true? It's to ask, is Christianity true? And in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the apostle Paul basically makes this really interesting and bold statement that if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then Christianity is false. But if Jesus was resurrected from the grave, then that would prove that Christianity is true. And I don't know about you, but if somebody predicted their own death and resurrection, and then pulled it off, I'm just gonna go with what they have to say. And through my own research, my own journey, I have found the evidence around the resurrection of Jesus to be pretty darn convincing and compelling, and that's, honestly, one of the pieces of my own faith journey that helped me actually take the step to become a follower of Jesus, because there were a lot of years in my own life where I wouldn't have identified as a Christian and I probably would've better been described as an atheist. But it was through encountering the love of godly people and doing the research to ask the question, is Christianity true, that I made the decision to become a follower of Jesus. And so, what I would say to you is, do the research, do the work, look into those questions, and ask yourself, is this true? Because if it is, that changes everything.

So next question for you. This comes from Avery. Avery asks the question, "I'm scared that I'm not worthy to get into heaven. What do I do"? And I'm really glad you asked this question, because the truth is, is none of us are worthy. None of us, based on the things that we've done, are worthy for the grace of God. But that's what makes grace so beautiful. It's not something we earn through our good works. It's something that is offered to us through the sacrifice of Jesus. And what you have to recognize and understand is that, no matter how hard we try, that we will never measure up to God's standard, but because of Jesus, God came to meet us in the middle of our mess with the weight of his mercy, and so, when Jesus was dying on the cross for your sins and for mine, he was paving the pathway for us to be brought back into a right relationship with God, so we could spend eternity with him.

And so, what do you do, if you find yourself in a place where you want that, but you don't think you deserve it? You do what the apostle Paul encourages, in Romans 10:9, where he says, "If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved". So for you, you're gonna have a moment later on in this experience to make the decision to place your trust in Jesus, to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that he is Lord, and when you do that, in that moment, you become a new person, no longer defined by the sin of your past, but defined by God's love for you.

Next question comes from Isabelle. Isabelle wants to know, "Were dinosaurs real? Because in the Bible, they're never talked about". This is another really, really great question. I've had lots of conversations with people who, this is like a stumbling block for them, where they're like, look, because the Bible doesn't address dinosaurs, I don't think I can believe in God and here's what we've got to acknowledge. Is that the Bible is not Google or Wikipedia. It isn't trying to answer every single question we might have. The Bible is a story that leads us to Jesus, and invites us to become like Jesus. And while that question about the existence of dinosaurs is a question that we have, it wasn't a question that the early Christians and Jewish people were asking, because if they were asking that, then I'm sure that that might show up somewhere in the Bible, but we've gotta remember, is that yes, the Bible is God's Word for us, but it wasn't originally written to us.

And the purpose of the Bible isn't to answer every question, it's to bring us to Jesus, and help us become more like him. What's interesting is, at the end of John's gospel, he kind of acknowledges this point, that the Bible doesn't contain every answer to every question. In chapter 20, verse 30, he says that, "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book". So the Bible doesn't even contain everything that Jesus did, let alone everything that has ever happened in history. So the idea of dinosaurs not being in the Bible, is a great reason for us to engage in the scientific method, to look into the research of other people that are way smarter than I am, to ask the question, were dinosaurs real? Where does the evidence lead and I believe that we should follow the evidence where it leads. So hopefully that's helpful for you, Isabelle.

The next question comes from Chandler, Chandler out in Fort Smith wanted to know, "What does God look like"? What does God look like? And Colossians 1:15, this is the apostle Paul writing, says that, "The Son," Jesus, "is the visible image of the invisible God". So what does God look like? God looks like Jesus. God looks like this man who entered into history after leaving heaven, he was born in a manger, a stable in the lowest of positions in these shadows of Caesar, the emperor of Rome's armies and the shadows of Herod's riches. The thing that you have to understand about God is if you wanna know what he's like, you look at Jesus and what Jesus shows us about God is that God would do whatever it takes to bring his people back to him, that God would literally lay down his own life so that we could experience life with him, that even death on a cross was not too far for God to go to find you and bring you home. What does God look like? He looks like Jesus, The visible image of the invisible God.

As we are navigating these questions about the Bible, here's the reality, is that you probably have questions that we didn't answer today. And I hope you know that that's okay, that Switch has always been meant to be a place where you can bring your questions, where you can be honest about your doubts, where you can share your struggles, because we want to be a family. We wanna be a place where you can be as honest and real as possible, and as we engage in small groups and in relationships, we get to work those questions out. And along the way, what we discover is the beauty of being honest, the power of being vulnerable. And we get to experience God's grace every step of the way, because that's the thing you need to know about Jesus, is he doesn't meet our questions and doubts with condemnation. Instead, he meets them with grace and mercy. And so, as we are continuing on this journey of discovering, what is the Bible, what is it all about, how do I engage with it, and can I trust it? I hope that you will keep showing up, that you will keep asking questions, because in your asking of questions, I believe that God wants to give you some answers. Let's pray together:

Heavenly Father, we thank you that we get to be part of a ministry where we are actively seeking out the difficult questions, where we are bringing those to our small groups, where we're bringing those to our pastors, where we're asking those questions to you, God, and we do it expecting you to speak because we know that when we engage with your Word, we do it to encounter you, to experience your presence in ways that we couldn't otherwise.

And so, what I pray right now is that as you are hearing this message, wherever you are, whether online or in-person, that if you're the kind of person where you realized you've still got questions and struggles and doubts about the Bible, but you want God's help to find answers to those questions, would you simply raise your hand or type it in the chat to let us know so that I can pray for you as you continue on this journey of discovering more and more of who God is?

Heavenly Father, I pray for all of us, with our questions, with our doubts, with our struggles and ask that you would give us wisdom to keep asking questions, that you would give us a spirit of humility to come to those questions without assuming that we already know the answers and that you would put people around us to help guide us to you, and that we would be open to your Spirit that is in us, that is guiding us to what's true.

Still in an attitude of prayer, with heads bowed and eyes closed, there's others of you right now, where, as you're hearing this message, what you realize is, you are a sinner, that there is something wrong in you, and no matter how hard you try, you can't get over the mess that you've made of your life. But as you're hearing about this person called Jesus, there is something stirring inside of you. That is the Spirit of God at work, trying to draw you closer to him. Because everything that we've talked about is all about Jesus, God in human form, who left heaven to enter history. He lived a perfect life and died a brutal death on the cross for you and for me, so that, by us putting our trust in him, we could be saved, we could be rescued, we could be made new.

And for some of you, that's exactly why you're here today, because you're not sure if you're worthy of God's love, but you're discovering that God's grace says you don't have to be worthy because I accomplished all of it. And so if you're here today and you're ready to say, "Jesus, I wanna give you my life, I wanna confess with my mouth that you are Lord, I wanna believe in my heart that God raised you from the dead, I want to be made new".

If that's you, simply lift your hand all over the place right now. If you're online, type in the chat, let us know that you're making the decision to say yes to Jesus, to begin a relationship with him, to put your trust in him and to be made new. If that is you, we are so proud of you, as you're making that decision, because there is no better choice you could make than that one right now, to begin a new life with Jesus as your Lord and as your King, and as people are making that choice, we're gonna pray out loud together, because here at Switch, we are a family. And even though you had to make that choice on your own, you don't have to pray alone. So all together, out loud, repeating after me, pray together:

Heavenly Father, forgive me of my sins. I'm turning from my old life. I'm turning towards you. I need your love, I need your grace, I need your mercy. Today, I give you my life, in Jesus' name. Amen, amen, and amen.

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